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"the whole world in your console" #
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"MapSCII is a Braille & ASCII world map renderer for your console"
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THX theme in SuperCollider | schollz

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 / #software 

An epic sound in just a few lines of code.

The THX “Deep Note” was composed by Lucasfilm sound engineer Dr. James Moorer and premiered in 1983 at the debut of “Star Wars: Episode VI.” The original was written in 20,000 lines of C code. However, as a demonstration of SuperCollider, I found it engaging to program in fewer than 100 lines.

the score

The score itself is a remarkably concise piece of music, shown below in its entirity.

THX score

It provides all necessary details for reconstruction:

  1. Use three detuned voices for high notes and two for low notes.
  2. Generate random pitches between 200 and 400 Hz.
  3. Oscillate pitches for approximately 10 seconds.
  4. Approach final pitch over approximately 6 seconds.
  5. Hold final pitches for 24 seconds.
  6. Gradually increase volume until the end.

Let’s try!

the final pitches

Lets start at the end, rather than the beginning to make things easier. The final notes, from the score, are D1, D2, A2, D3, A3, D4, A4, D5, A5, D6, and F#6. We can gather all these notes as midi notes - [26, 38, 45, 50, 57, 62, 69, 74, 81, 86, 90] and create a little Routine in SuperCollider that will play a “thx” synth (to be determined). But here we are:

(
s.waitForBoot({  
  Routine {
    // sync the server
    s.sync;
    // D1, D2, A2, D3, A3, D4, A4, D5, A5, D6, and F#6
    ~thxNotes = [26, 38, 45, 50, 57, 62, 69, 74, 81, 86, 90];
    // play all notes
    Synth.tail(s,"out");
    ~thxNotes.do({ arg v;
      if (v<60,{
        // 2 voices
        Synth("thx",[\noteFinal,v]);
        Synth("thx",[\noteFinal,v]);
      },{
        // 3 voices, slightly detuneds
        Synth("thx",[\noteFinal,v+rrand(-0.1,0.1)]);
        Synth("thx",[\noteFinal,v+rrand(-0.1,0.1)]);
        Synth("thx",[\noteFinal,v+rrand(-0.1,0.1)]);
      });
    });
  }.play;
});
)

For notes less than middle C (midi note “60”) there are two voices created, and for the higher notes there are three voices with randomization added to their noteFinal.

the basic synth

Now lets make a basic synth that plays these pitches. For now lets just make a super basic “thx” synth:

(
s.waitForBoot({
   SynthDef("thx",{
      arg noteFinal=72;
      var snd;

      // set random inital note
      var note = noteFinal;

      snd = Saw.ar(note.midicps);
      snd = snd * EnvGen.ar(Env.new([0,1],[1]));
      Out.ar(0,snd*12.neg.dbamp);
   }).add;

   Routine {
      // sync the server
      s.sync;
      // D1, D2, A2, D3, A3, D4, A4, D5, A5, D6, and F#6
      ~thxNotes = [26,38,45,50,57,62,69,74,81,86,90];
      // play all notes
      Synth.tail(s,"out");
      ~thxNotes.do({ arg v;
         if (v<60,{
            // 2 voices
            Synth("thx",[\noteFinal,v]);
            Synth("thx",[\noteFinal,v]);
         },{
            // 3 voices, slightly detuneds
            Synth("thx",[\noteFinal,v+rrand(-0.1,0.1)]);
            Synth("thx",[\noteFinal,v+rrand(-0.1,0.1)]);
            Synth("thx",[\noteFinal,v+rrand(-0.1,0.1)]);
         });
      });

   }.play;
});
)

random pitches

To define some initial notes that transition into the final “THX” notes, you can generate random pitches and then smoothly transition them to the final notes. Here’s how you can do it in SuperCollider:

(
s.waitForBoot({
   SynthDef("thx",{
      arg noteFinal=72;
      var snd;
      
      // set random inital note
      var noteInitial = Rand(200,400).cpsmidi;      
      
      // note movement
      var noteMove = EnvGen.ar(Env.new([0,1],[8],curve:\sine));
      
      // setting up the note
      var note = noteInitial;
      // add the movement in the note
      note = note + (noteMove* (noteFinal-noteInitial));
      
      snd = Saw.ar(note.midicps);
      snd = snd * EnvGen.ar(Env.new([0,1],[1]));
      Out.ar(0,snd*12.neg.dbamp);
   }).add;
   
   Routine {
      // sync the server
      s.sync;
      // D1, D2, A2, D3, A3, D4, A4, D5, A5, D6, and F#6
      ~thxNotes = [26,38,45,50,57,62,69,74,81,86,90];
      // play all notes
      Synth.tail(s,"out");
      ~thxNotes.do({ arg v;
         if (v<60,{
            // 2 voices
            Synth("thx",[\noteFinal,v]);
            Synth("thx",[\noteFinal,v]);
         },{
            // 3 voices, slightly detuneds
            Synth("thx",[\noteFinal,v+rrand(-0.1,0.1)]);
            Synth("thx",[\noteFinal,v+rrand(-0.1,0.1)]);
            Synth("thx",[\noteFinal,v+rrand(-0.1,0.1)]);
         });
      });
      
   }.play;
});
)

random pitch movement

the score is a little more subtle than this though - as each note seems to be able tow wave around a little bit before the actual movement begins to the final note. lets add this in too. we will introduce noteRandomization, which when it is finished will trigger the noteMove envelope.

(
s.waitForBoot({
   SynthDef("thx",{
      arg noteFinal=72;
      var snd;
      
      // set random inital note
      var noteInitial = Rand(200,400).cpsmidi;      
      
      // note randomization
      var noteRandomization = EnvGen.ar(Env.new([1,1,0],[11,1],curve:\welch));
      
      // note movement
      var noteMove = EnvGen.ar(Env.new([0,1],[8],curve:\sine),gate:noteRandomization<0.01);
      
      // setting up the note
      var note = noteInitial;
      // add the randomization of the note
      note = note + (noteRandomization * LFNoise2.kr(1).range(-1,1));
      // add the movement in the note
      note = note + (noteMove* (noteFinal-noteInitial));
      
      snd = Saw.ar(note.midicps);
      snd = snd * EnvGen.ar(Env.new([0,1],[1]));
      Out.ar(0,snd*12.neg.dbamp);
   }).add;
   
   Routine {
      // sync the server
      s.sync;
      // D1, D2, A2, D3, A3, D4, A4, D5, A5, D6, and F#6
      ~thxNotes = [26,38,45,50,57,62,69,74,81,86,90];
      // play all notes
      Synth.tail(s,"out");
      ~thxNotes.do({ arg v;
         if (v<60,{
            // 2 voices
            Synth("thx",[\noteFinal,v]);
            Synth("thx",[\noteFinal,v]);
         },{
            // 3 voices, slightly detuneds
            Synth("thx",[\noteFinal,v+rrand(-0.1,0.1)]);
            Synth("thx",[\noteFinal,v+rrand(-0.1,0.1)]);
            Synth("thx",[\noteFinal,v+rrand(-0.1,0.1)]);
         });
      });
      
   }.play;
});
)

envelopes!

envelopes can control the volume of the sound, and that is the last thing that we are missing. we need an envelope to increase the volume over time, so we can use EnvGen with something like:

snd = snd * EnvGen.ar(Env.new([-36,-16,-4,-4,-96],[8,8,8,2]),doneAction:2,timeScale:timeScale).dbamp;

which will increase and then decrease at the end.

(
s.waitForBoot({
   SynthDef("thx",{
      arg noteFinal=72;
      var snd;
      
      // set random inital note
      var noteInitial = Rand(200,400).cpsmidi;      
      
      // note randomization
      var noteRandomization = EnvGen.ar(Env.new([1,1,0],[11,1],curve:\welch));
      
      // note movement
      var noteMove = EnvGen.ar(Env.new([0,1],[8],curve:\sine),gate:noteRandomization<0.01);
      
      // setting up the note
      var note = noteInitial;
      // add the randomization of the note
      note = note + (noteRandomization * LFNoise2.kr(1).range(-1,1));
      // add the movement in the note
      note = note + (noteMove* (noteFinal-noteInitial));
         
      snd = Saw.ar(note.midicps);
            
      // slowly louder
      snd = snd * EnvGen.ar(Env.new([-36,-16,-4,-4,-96],[8,8,8,2]),doneAction:2).dbamp;
      
      snd = snd * EnvGen.ar(Env.new([0,1],[1]));
      Out.ar(0,snd*12.neg.dbamp);
   }).add;
   
   Routine {
      // sync the server
      s.sync;
      // D1, D2, A2, D3, A3, D4, A4, D5, A5, D6, and F#6
      ~thxNotes = [26,38,45,50,57,62,69,74,81,86,90];
      // play all notes
      Synth.tail(s,"out");
      ~thxNotes.do({ arg v;
         if (v<60,{
            // 2 voices
            Synth("thx",[\noteFinal,v]);
            Synth("thx",[\noteFinal,v]);
         },{
            // 3 voices, slightly detuneds
            Synth("thx",[\noteFinal,v+rrand(-0.1,0.1)]);
            Synth("thx",[\noteFinal,v+rrand(-0.1,0.1)]);
            Synth("thx",[\noteFinal,v+rrand(-0.1,0.1)]);
         });
      });
      
   }.play;
});
)

thats about it!

and that’s about it! now its about just adding a few elements to spruce things up a bit. we can add a reverb stage at the end and we can also add some random panning to the final code and get something like this:

(
s.waitForBoot({
   SynthDef("thx",{
      arg noteFinal=72;
      var timeScale = 1;
      var snd;

      // set random inital note
      var noteInitial = Rand(200,400).cpsmidi;

      // note randomization
      var noteRandomization = EnvGen.ar(Env.new([1,1,0],[11,1],curve:\welch),timeScale:timeScale);

      // note movement
      var noteMove = EnvGen.ar(Env.new([0,1],[8],curve:\sine),gate:noteRandomization<0.01,timeScale:timeScale);

      // setting up the note
      var note = noteInitial;
      // add the randomization of the note
      note = note + (noteRandomization * LFNoise2.kr(1).range(-1,1));
      // add the movement in the note
      note = note + (noteMove* (noteFinal-noteInitial));

      // sawtooth oscillator
      snd = Saw.ar(note.midicps);

      // some low-pass filtering
      snd = LPF.ar(snd,Rand(90,130).midicps);

      // random panning
      snd = Pan2.ar(snd,Rand(-0.5,0.5));

      // slowly louder
      snd = snd * EnvGen.ar(Env.new([-36,-16,-4,-4,-96],[8,8,8,2]),doneAction:2,timeScale:timeScale).dbamp;

      snd = snd * EnvGen.ar(Env.new([0,1],[1]));
      Out.ar(0,snd*12.neg.dbamp);
   }).add;


   // output
   SynthDef("out",{
      var snd = In.ar(0,2);
      var sndr;
      var snd2 = snd;
      // reverb
      snd2 = DelayN.ar(snd2, 0.03, 0.03);
      snd2 = DelayN.ar(snd2, 0.15, 0.15);
      snd2 = CombN.ar(snd2, 0.1, {Rand(0.01,0.099)}!32, 4);
      snd2 = SplayAz.ar(2, snd2);
      snd2 = LPF.ar(snd2, LinExp.kr(LFNoise2.kr(1),-1,1,2500,3000));
      5.do{snd2 = AllpassN.ar(snd2, 0.1, {Rand(0.01,0.099)}!2, 3)};
      snd2 = LPF.ar(snd2, LinExp.kr(LFNoise2.kr(1),-1,1,2500,3000));
      snd2 = LeakDC.ar(snd2);
      snd = SelectX.ar(0.6,[snd,snd2]);
      ReplaceOut.ar(0,snd * 6.neg.dbamp);
   }).add;

   Routine {
      // sync the server
      s.sync;
      // <a href="https://www.johndcook.com/blog/2018/06/12/mathematics-of-deep-note/" rel="nofollow">https://www.johndcook.com/blog/2018/06/12/mathematics-of-deep-note/</a>
      // D1, D2, A2, D3, A3, D4, A4, D5, A5, D6, and F#6
      ~thxNotes = [26,38,45,50,57,62,69,74,81,86,90];
      // play all notes
      Synth.tail(s,"out");
      ~thxNotes.do({ arg v;
         if (v<60,{
            // 2 voices
            Synth("thx",[\noteFinal,v]);
            Synth("thx",[\noteFinal,v]);
         },{
            // 3 voices, slightly detuneds
            Synth("thx",[\noteFinal,v+rrand(-0.1,0.1)]);
            Synth("thx",[\noteFinal,v+rrand(-0.1,0.1)]);
            Synth("thx",[\noteFinal,v+rrand(-0.1,0.1)]);
         });
      });


   }.play;
});
)

best results if you have a subwoofer :)

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kasnewsblur
29 days ago
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How many times have I heard this sound and never thought about it. Very cool to see it written out in music notation. And then recreated? Super cool.
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Automakers Are Sharing Consumers’ Driving Behavior With Insurance Companies

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kasnewsblur
43 days ago
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Woof
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Inside the miracle of modern chip manufacturing

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Working in chip innovation was not always the plan for Min Cao, vice-president of pathfinding at Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC).

Cao had dreamed of a career in physics, but after graduating from Stanford University at the end of the cold war, an abundance of out-of-work physicists meant he cast his net more widely. His desire to understand how the world works led him to the rapidly developing field of microchips.

“There are still a lot of mysteries,” says Cao, whose work on chip performance continues to push the limits of physics. “It’s getting harder, but it doesn’t mean we are going to stop.”

Only three companies in the world — Intel, Samsung and TSMC — are capable of mass producing chips powerful and small enough for today’s advanced mobile technologies.

With parts of transistors reaching atomic levels of scale, engineers are having to come up with increasingly innovative ways of ensuring progress, such as vertical, tower-like construction and rethinking the way chips are packaged. Many believe bundling together chips with different functions is where future semiconductor battle lines will be drawn.

Some of the newest smartphone chips, such as those in the iPhone 15 Pro, are manufactured with what is called a “3 nanometre” process — a name given to a generation of processors with the smallest transistors. Although this no longer references their physical dimensions, it does allude to the shrinking scale of their components. These tiny switches, which control the flow of electrical signals inside every digital device, are the workhorses of microprocessors and the basic building blocks of modern electronics.

Driven by demand for increased computing power, the scaling of chips over time has for decades followed Moore’s Law, the observation by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit would double every two years. But progress has slowed, with doubling now closer to every three years.

The current 3nm process has suffered from poor yield rates — the proportion of chips produced that can be sold to customers — and only marginal improvements in efficiency.

But far from being at the end of the transistor innovation journey, Intel’s Ben Sell, vice-president of technology development, suggests we are right “in the middle” of it. What is particularly exciting, he says, is that chip innovations discussed “for decades” are now being seen in devices on the market.

But success is not guaranteed — and the stakes are high. Global chip sales hit well over $500bn last year and semiconductors could become a trillion-dollar industry by the end of this decade, according to consultants McKinsey.

“That’s like getting to GDP scales of things that the companies are competing over,” says Jeff Koch, analyst at SemiAnalysis, an independent research company specialising in semiconductors and AI.

The technological reputation and financial standing of companies and governments depends on the right bets being made.

TSMC, with its market capitalisation of $575bn, dominates Taiwan’s economy and the global market for the world’s very smallest cutting-edge chips.

That is something the Biden administration hopes to change with its Chips Act, pledging $52bn of incentives to encourage companies to base fabrication plants on US soil. But many experts believe the erosion of US chip manufacturing over a number of decades has made it hard for the country to regain global competitiveness.

China is also entering the race, with the country’s biggest chipmaker SMIC expected to make next-generation smartphone processors as early as this year — despite US efforts to restrict Beijing’s chip advances through export restrictions on specialist equipment.

Nvidia and Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) are also battling for technical supremacy and market share in the field of AI chips, given the soaring demand for the processors that power OpenAI’s ChatGPT and similar apps.

AMD revealed a raft of technical advances in December, including packing 153bn transistors and 192 gigabytes of memory into its new MI300 chip, in a bid to take on the world’s most valuable chip company, Nvidia. Last week, Nvidia’s market value soared to $2tn, leapfrogging Amazon and Alphabet to become the third most valuable US-listed company, behind Microsoft and Apple.

AMD, meanwhile, brought in revenues of $23bn in 2023 and expects to sell $3.5bn-worth of its latest chips this year. It is the second-most-valuable semiconductor company in the US — overtaking Intel in 2022. Intel is also bidding for a place in the AI landscape, announcing it will be building Microsoft’s high-end chips.

Chip construction

A diminishing number of companies have been able to keep pace in the race to build the most advanced smartphone chips in recent years. The design and manufacturing processes have become extremely long, complex and costly, requiring ever more specialist equipment and knowledge.

Advances take years of experimentation and require staggering levels of R&D spending.

Working at nanoscale is also full of jeopardy. Precision, repeatability and cleanliness are some of the biggest challenges, says Sell, explaining that any particle, even those smaller than a bacterium, could “kill” a chip on contact.

Inside chip fabrication plants, more than a thousand precisely controlled steps create each integrated circuit, layer by layer. Every time a new generation of chips is developed, these stages all need to be reviewed, says Chris Auth, director of advanced transistor development at Intel. “You have to be pretty fearless about trying new things and saying, ‘Hey, let’s just see what happens’,” he adds.

A new chip generation also requires new tools and processes, says TSMC’s Cao. The transistor advances in the next 2nm chips mean some elements need to be built laterally, rather than vertically, bringing extra challenges, he adds.

“There are a lot of things happening in the same node [generation], even though we give them just a simple number, like 2nm.”

But before any of these complex steps of fabrication begin, the base of the chip is still made with a simple, common substance called silicon, extracted from sand or quartz.

  1. 1Silicon is extracted from sand and purified. It is then added to a crucible and heated until molten

  2. 2The crucible is rotated at speed while a solid piece of ‘seed’ silicon is pulled up using a rod

  3. 3The result is a silicon ‘ingot’ or ‘boule’. The largest have a diameter of 300mm

  4. 4The silicon boule is sliced into discs, known as wafers, and polished to a mirror-smooth finish

  1. 5Ultraviolet light, projected through a stencil, transfers tiny patterns onto the wafer

  2. 6Many thin films of materials are added and etched away using these intricate patterns as a guide

  3. 7The wafer is hit with ions, or charged atoms, to make areas more conductive or insulating

  4. 8Hundreds of stages of layering build up the chip’s components. Metal wiring completes the circuit

Creating the tiny components for a chip’s circuits requires cutting-edge equipment: machines that can transfer microscopic patterns on to each wafer using a process called photolithography.

For the smallest chips, multi-million-dollar machines made by a single Dutch company, ASML, use extreme ultraviolet light to create these fine stencils. The machines are the size of a bus, but so accurate they could direct a laser to hit a golf ball as far away as the Moon.

Every stage of this process requires “PhD thesis level of knowledge”, says Koch.

A wafer full of chips can be worth thousands of pounds when it leaves a top fabrication plant.

Rethinking power and packaging

While leading manufacturers are hoping the 2nm chip will solve many of the 3nm generation’s problems, the limits of scaling mean engineers are already developing alternative ways of getting more power and efficiency out of the same space.

Building on current 3D designs, engineers plan to stack transistors on top of each other, rather than cramming them in side-by-side.

“You’re really starting to expand that third dimension, which is something that hasn’t been used in the first 60 years of transistor technology,” says Intel’s Auth. “[When] you build skyscrapers, you start to run out of the ability to shrink things laterally, so you start to build up and that’s what we’re doing.”

The way chips are packaged is also going upwards. The growing field of “advanced packaging” — how chips are bundled together to boost capability as well as reduce cost — is moving towards stacking chips to improve performance and better use available space.

This pivot to vertical design and development is “kind of a big deal”, says Koch of SemiAnalysis, because it is the first time the industry has acknowledged that it’s running out of horizontal options. “We’re slowing down in one direction, but speeding up in another,” he says.

Cao says advanced packaging is where major progress can be made — a field in which TSMC is heavily invested. “There are a lot of different configurations that can be used . . . a lot of things are happening in this field.”

Packaging developments have paved the way for another shift in semiconductor architecture: “chiplets”.

Engineers are moving away from building an entire microprocessor on a single piece of silicon — the monolithic “system on a chip” — and towards multi-chip modules (MCMs). These MCMs see groups of chips with different functions built on separate pieces of silicon and then bundled together to work like a single electronic brain.

Many believe chiplet manufacturing is the only way to keep Moore’s Law alive in the longer term. Intel, AMD and Apple have already launched products, while others, like Nvidia, have indicated they have them in development. AMD’s latest MI300 employs modular architecture.

The companies investing in MCMs say one of their key advantages is flexibility — they can be adapted for different customers because makers can swap in chiplets depending on requirements. They also offer manufacturers the option of mixing older and newer designs and upgrading elements incrementally, rather than overhauling a chip’s entire system at once.

This means companies can “react quickly”, says Auth. “If the market wants more of one thing or another, you don’t necessarily have to change the GPU [graphics processing unit] or the CPU [central processing unit], you can just change one component.”

This can lead to improved performance overall, he says, because you can “pick and choose what provides the best outcome for the end customer”.

One of the things that has been holding back the wider adoption of chiplets is the lack of standard rules for interfaces, which means it is not yet possible to mix and match products from manufacturers. But this remains the long-term goal for many companies, including TSMC, Intel, Samsung, AMD and Google, who have formed a consortium in the hope of doing so.

A number of chipmakers are hoping further performance gains can be made through a major rethink of how chips get their power.

Upcoming 2nm designs include separating the metal wiring that joins a chip’s elements from those that bring in power — something never done before. Power wires will move from the top (front), to the bottom (back side) of the chip, sitting below the transistor layer, rather than above. The interconnects will stay put. Early tests show this direct route for power and reduced tangle of wires results in greater efficiency.

In traditional chip architecture, power and signal wires are integrated above the transistors, causing bottlenecks

With back-side power architecture, power wiring is moved below the transistors, separating it from the signal interconnects and improving efficiency

Alternatives to silicon may also be seen within the decade. High-mobility or 2D materials, such as graphene, which allow electrons to move around quickly, could pave the way for “faster switches” and a leap in capabilities, says Sell.

“The periodic table has a lot more elements to work with, so there’s plenty of room for us to innovate,” he adds.

Another emerging field is photonics, where photons, the building blocks of light, are used in place of electrons to carry data at higher speeds. Companies, including TSMC, are currently experimenting.

Although nothing in chipmaking is ever certain, the accelerating demand for AI, illustrated this month by Nvidia’s bumper results and bullish forecasts, will mean no shortage of incentives for chipmakers to continue increasing computing power.

“It’s so integral to what we do in our everyday lives and I think we take it for granted,” says Intel’s Auth, reflecting on the leaps in science enabling chip development. “I’m excited to see what we can do over the next 20 years.”

Cao is equally confident his team of TSMC engineers can continue to be pioneers, developing new generations of chips at a “regular pace” well into the future. The company’s customers demand it.

“It stops when no one’s asking for it,” he says. “And that is not the case.”

This story is free to read so you can share it with family and friends who don’t yet have an FT subscription.

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kasnewsblur
54 days ago
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Wow
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How Do People of Middle Eastern and North African Descent Identify?

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Egyptian, Iranian, Lebanese, Amazigh, Arab, American.

These are just a handful of ways that thousands of people who responded to a New York Times callout described themselves. The answers were as diverse as the group of individuals behind them. People with roots in the Middle East and North Africa, often abbreviated as MENA, represent a multitude of cultures, religions and languages. And they all have different viewpoints about how they fit into the American mosaic.

Accounting for MENA identity in the United States has become particularly relevant this year. The 2024 presidential election could hinge on a handful of swing states like Michigan, where Arab American voters turned out decisively for President Biden in 2020. But Mr. Biden has faced mounting frustration from Arab Americans and others within his party for his support for Israel in the war in Gaza.

While people of MENA heritage are by no means monolithic, they do share one common experience in the United States. On official forms, most don’t see themselves represented among the check boxes for race or ethnicity. With few good options, many end up being counted as “white.”

A decades-old federal guideline defines “white” as anyone with origins in Europe, North Africa or the Middle East. In the 2020 census, “Lebanese” and “Egyptian” were offered as examples for the “white” box on the race question. The other categories included “Black or African American,” “American Indian or Alaska Native,” “Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander,” a variety of Asian ancestries and “some other race.”

While the Times survey and follow-up interviews — conducted from September 2022 through August 2023 — do not represent all Middle Eastern and North African voices, a vast majority of respondents agreed that the current race categories are at odds with how they identified.

“I never check the ‘white’ box. I understand why it exists, historically and logistically, but I have never identified as a white person.”

Martin Zebari, 30,

identifies as Southwest Asian

“The categories don’t speak to my identity as Arab or, more specifically, Yemeniya. I don’t walk through this world as a white person, I don’t get those privileges as a white person, I don’t have white culture.”

Samera Hadi, 33,

identifies as Yemeni American

“I am African, but I feel that checking the ‘Black or African American’ box is wrong. My ancestors did not struggle through slavery or racism. My skin color does not make me a target of racism, but I’m not white.”

Imene Said Kouidri, 48,

identifies as Algerian and North African

“You come to the U.S., and if you’re dark skinned, then you’re Black. But there’s nothing in Somali that’s ‘Black’ or ‘white.’ Sometimes I choose ‘other’ and sometimes I choose ‘African American.’ ”

Faisal Ali, 29,

identifies as Somali and Arab

“Given the choices, I would always say ‘white.’ But there are a whole bunch of qualities associated with that that don’t capture me, my identity, my background and my experience.”

Joseph Hallock, 80,

identifies as Syrian American

Community leaders have been advocating for Middle Eastern and North African to be included as an official category for years.

The Biden administration last year proposed removing MENA from the “white” definition and adding a “Middle Eastern or North African” box as part of a larger overhaul to combine the question of race and ethnicity on federal forms.

Take a look at a proposed example of a form. The MENA addition is highlighted.

Sample of the proposed census form, with the proposed MENA addition circled to highlight it. It reads “Middle Eastern or North African — Provide details below.” There are check boxes for Lebanese, Iranian, Egyptian, Syrian, Moroccan and Israeli. There is a space for additional details with instructions that say “Enter, for example, Algerian, Iraqi, Kurdish, etc.”

Source: Office of Management and Budget, Federal Interagency Technical Working Group on Race and Ethnicity Standards

The revisions, currently under review, would give official recognition to a large and growing portion of the U.S. population. They would also ripple through the nation’s statistical universe and have numerous practical implications for the MENA population, especially around health care, education and political representation.

“We spent 30-plus years trying to get to the point where the census would address the massive undercount of our community,” said Maya Berry, executive director of the Arab American Institute.

Some experts worry, however, that the addition of more check boxes, along with a write-in option, might confuse respondents and make the census form too complex to generate accurate data. After all, there’s no agreed-upon set of countries or ethnicities that would fall under a Middle Eastern and North African category.

“This would be the first time since the 1970s that a completely new race or ethnicity category has been added, and that’s a very significant change,” said Margo J. Anderson, a professor emerita at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the author of “The American Census: A Social History.” “You’re asking people to answer in a much more complicated way, and MENA is just one piece of a much bigger need for testing all of these changes between now and the 2030 census.”

The Census Bureau recently announced that 3.5 million people listed a MENA origin in the 2020 decennial census, but the numbers included only those who first identified as white.

Most of what demographers know about the MENA population now comes from the Census Bureau’s annual American Community Survey, which asks respondents about race, ethnicity and also their ancestry. The most recent data, from 2022, shows that nearly four million U.S. residents — just over 1 percent of the population — listed a Middle Eastern or North African ancestry.

Those figures can also be combined with other survey questions to help demographers broadly understand the MENA population in terms of size, location and economic status, but these statistics have no legal standing. Only the categories included in the decennial census dictate how people are classified across a broad spectrum of statistical agencies.

For example, while there is robust research into the public school achievement gap between white and Black students, less is known about the performance of Middle Eastern and North African students because they are not officially tracked in federal education statistics.

When policy makers redraw political boundaries every ten years, there is often much debate over whether the new congressional districts fairly represent various minority groups. But people of MENA descent are not officially part of this conversation because they don’t exist in the data used to draw the lines.

Medical researchers can better detect elevated health risks for certain groups if they gain access to more granular race data, researchers from Cornell University recently found. During the first year of the pandemic, for example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was able to detect the high risk of Covid among Native Americans in large part because Native American, unlike MENA, is an official race category. Dr. Tiffany Kindratt, a health researcher at the University of Texas at Arlington who has reached a similar conclusion in her work, noted that the designation is crucial to securing funding for studies.

With so much missing information, The Times decided to conduct its own survey to learn more about those of MENA descent in the United States.

“I have never passed for white a day in my life. There is no way that I should be hidden into this category. Now my numbers go into this category of culture that I do not belong to, that I’m not recognized as, and that I don’t share privileges with.”

Susu Attar, 42,

identifies as Iraqi

“I’m not white, I’m North African. By having to check ‘white’ — I feel like it reduces me to a certain set of expectations or experiences that don’t capture what it’s meant to be an Arab and a Muslim in America.”

Khelil Bouarrouj, 37,

identifies as North African

“I have been discriminated against and have been told to ‘go back to my country’ more times than I can count from white people. Why should I be lumped in with the very people who discriminate against me?”

Dusty Haddad, 51,

identifies as Palestinian

In the Times survey, respondents were asked several multiple choice questions about their racial and ethnic identity.

When asked to choose from a list of race options that did not include “Middle Eastern or North African,” nearly half of the 5,300 survey respondents chose “another race” and about a third picked “white.” When a MENA box was added, the change was drastic — nearly 90 percent chose either MENA alone or MENA along with one other category. (Unlike the census form, which prompts MENA individuals to identify as “white,” the Times survey did not.)

“A lot of MENA people don’t perceive themselves as being part of the majority population in the United States,” said Jeffrey S. Passel, a senior demographer at Pew Research. “Some of them perceive themselves to be subject to discrimination because of their origins.”

Nadine Naber, a professor of Arab American studies at the University of Illinois Chicago, said the lack of a MENA box made it difficult to track instances of racism and discrimination, both for law enforcement and in workplaces and universities.

At the same time, people of Middle Eastern and North African descent are often “hypervisible” and subjected to racial profiling, and stereotypes associating Muslims and Arabs with terrorism persist with pernicious consequences, Dr. Naber said. And there may be some reluctance to self-identify as Middle Eastern and North African on official forms for that very reason, she added.

“People lack access to resources and are being discriminated against, but we can’t respond because we don’t have the data,” said Dr. Naber, who is an author of a study of Arab Americans in Chicago released last year called “Beyond Erasure and Profiling.”

A small share of those surveyed did choose “white” even when a “Middle Eastern and North African” option was offered — showing how difficult it is to find universal agreement on views around identity within such a diverse population. But when MENA was an option, a much larger share of respondents chose it in addition to “white.”

Several survey respondents acknowledged the privilege that comes with the perception of appearing or presenting as “white.”

“If I look at myself, I’m not hijabi, I’m not Muslim, and I know I go around the world with white-woman privilege. My Turkish family has white privilege in certain contexts.”

Ceylan Swenson, 24,

identifies as white and mixed-SWANA (Southwest Asian and North African)

“In our country, race is such a loaded question that I feel like I can’t truthfully say anything other than ‘white,’ as I definitely have the privilege that goes along with that.”

Blake Bachara, 32,

identifies as white and “vaguely Arabic”

“To someone who sees me, I might present as white. But as soon as anyone hears my name, I immediately become nonwhite. I filled out ‘white’ most of the time only because I didn’t feel like I had a good option.”

Amin Younes, 35,

identifies as Palestinian and German American

“We’re forced to choose between checking ‘white’ or acknowledging our identity as ‘Arab/Middle Eastern.’ But we can be both.”

Rita Obeid, 34,

identifies as Middle Eastern/Arab

The addition of a Middle Eastern and North African box would impact demographic data for all groups in the United States, and would almost certainly result in a decrease in the number of people counted as white. After all, the Census Bureau has included most MENA individuals in that category for as long as it has counted them.

The debate over how to classify people of Middle Eastern and North African descent is not new. In the early 1900s, Arab immigrants — who were mostly Levantine Christians — fought to be classified as “white” to circumvent rules that allowed only white immigrants to become U.S. citizens.

The matter became the subject of several court cases — and set in place a legal precedent that would last for decades.

The federal government issued guidelines in 1977 that defined people from the Middle East and North Africa as white. A box for this population was on the agenda when the race and ethnicity guidelines were updated in 1997, but there was not enough consensus to implement change.

Extensive research continued under then-President Barack Obama, but it did not result in any changes to the race or ethnicity categories. In 2022, the Biden administration picked it back up and asked the public to weigh in.

Thousands of people submitted feedback, which a working group is now reviewing, before final recommendations are submitted to the Office of Management and Budget. Revisions to the race and ethnicity statistical standards are expected by the summer.

“The new category will allow all of us to be seen and also see each other for the first time. It’s a chance to re-emerge from the whiteness many immigrants sought to survive a century ago, but that has served to erase and harm us over the 20th and 21st centuries.”

Thomas Simsarian Dolan, 41,

identifies as MENA

“The census is the only major set of data that lawmakers and corporations and others use to see who is in this country. To not be represented in something like that, it just feels like we aren’t supposed to care about who we are.”

Gabrielle Barbara Guliana, 26,

identifies as Chaldean

The largest group of respondents to the Times survey said they were of Egyptian, Lebanese, Palestinian, Iranian or Syrian descent. Among these identities, those from Lebanon and Iran were more likely to call themselves “white.”

Respondents whose families immigrated to the United States before 1960 were also more likely to identify as “white.” For those with families arriving in more recent decades, “another race” was the most common response.

The survey also revealed differences along generational lines. While those over the age of 50 were more likely to choose “white,” respondents under 30 were less likely to do so.

“Generationally it’s a very different conversation. As you get younger, people are more likely to identify as MENA or not white, but the first generations who came to the U.S. are more likely to identify as white.”

Christina Boufarah, 21,

identifies as Middle Eastern/North African/Arab

“The wish for assimilation is very much inside every immigrant I’ve ever met — wanting to be accepted, wanting to feel safe. What’s changing is really the fact that people are refusing to put up with the shame and refusing to hide, making it easier and safer to not check the ‘white’ box today.”

Michele Magar, 69,

identifies as MENA and non-practicing Jew

“If anything, I consider myself closer in race to Black people than white people. I grew up in this city, born in 1980 and there weren’t many first-generation American Arabs in N.Y.C. My identity and race has always made me question why there are so few selections.”

Soufiane Driss, 43,

identifies as North African

Many people told The Times that they regard Middle Eastern and North African as an ethnicity, not a race. For several decades, the Census Bureau has made a distinction between the two categories. It has captured information about race for people who are white, Black, Asian or Native American. And it has inquired about Hispanic and Latino heritage as a matter of ethnicity. Under the new system, the distinction would disappear, and Middle Eastern and North African would be added to a new combined question that asks for race or ethnicity.

Some respondents took issue with the term the “Middle East,” which is generally used to refer to Arabic-speaking countries as well as others like Iran, Israel and Turkey. The term became widely used in the 1900s, when it was employed by world powers, and its borders have long been subject to debate. There is also no consensus on which countries and territories constitute the Middle East.

Particularly among younger people and academics, a different term has been adopted — SWANA, or Southwest Asia and North Africa.

It’s not an easy task to incorporate a wide swath of the world with many countries, languages, ethnicities and religions into a single box, but proponents say MENA is the most inclusive option and a good place to start.

“As an Afghan, we would get lost in the Asian box, and feel that MENA should become more inclusive like the more current term SWANA, to include Afghanistan, Turkey and Armenia.”

Azita Ghanizada,

identifies as Afghan

“The notion of being an Arab in the West is a politically charged notion — often one where you are seen as an enemy, frankly. Being in control of defining your own identity is a way of defeating the pernicious power of stereotyping.”

Moustafa Bayoumi, 57,

identifies as Arab American

“I can say I’m American, I’m Arab, I’m Syrian, I’m a Muslim, I’m a West Virginian. So these labels are not so simple for us to just say, ‘All you people get in this bucket.’ But if MENA is what works best for now, I’ll take whatever starts to see us or count us.”

Nawar Shora, 47,

identifies as Arab American

Methodology

The New York Times first published the survey on Sept. 29, 2022, and accepted responses through May 5, 2023. Follow-up interviews were conducted through August 2023. The Times asked more than 75 community organizations and individuals to help distribute the survey through social media and email in an effort to reach a wide cross section of the Middle Eastern and North African population in the United States.

More than 5,300 people responded to the Times survey. The responses skewed young and coastal, with a majority of respondents residing in metropolitan areas such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington, D.C. There were also responses from people from many corners of the country, from Gallup, N.M., to Macomb, Mich., to Bend, Ore.

More than a third of respondents listed their family heritage as Lebanese, Egyptian, Iranian, Palestinian or Syrian, but participants with roots in many countries across the Middle East and North Africa participated. Many said they had mixed heritage. The Times analysis included anyone who said they were of MENA descent.

Times reporters conducted follow-up interviews with more than two dozen respondents. The photos accompanying the quotes in the story were submitted by the individuals who were interviewed.

The labels accompanying colored swatches at the top of the story are a sampling of answers to this question: If you could write anything, how would you describe your race and/or ethnicity?

The bar charts represent answers to two multiple-choice questions, both of which allowed respondents to check more than one box. The first one asked: What is your race? The choices were: “white,” “Black or African American,” “Asian or Pacific Islander,” “American Indian or Alaska Native” or “another race.” The second question asked was: What is your race and/or ethnicity? The choices were: “white,” “Black of African American,” “Hispanic or Latino,” “Asian or Pacific Islander,” “Middle Eastern or North African,” “American Indian or Alaska Native” or “another race.” Charts reflect the most common responses to the survey. Values have been rounded.

In addition, The Times examined information about MENA people in the 2022 American Community Survey, including respondents who identified their ancestry among 21 distinct groups with origins in North Africa and Southwest Asia, as well as four additional ancestries (Afghan, Georgian, Sudanese, Somali) that are sometimes included in various definitions of MENA.

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